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Funding Research in Africa

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The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa is drawing more money to study the virus, but what about funding for African science in general?

 

By Paula Park | Originally published at TheScientist.

 

The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia has laid bare the dearth of basic research funding for scientists in many African countries, which cannot afford the high-cost of building laboratories and purchasing equipment needed to study such diseases.

 

Since 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided $300 million in grants to researchers in just 17 of 54 African countries, for example, with around $200 million going to South Africa alone, according to the NIH RePort funding database.

 

Some donors and scientists predict the heightened awareness may result in expanded funding on not just Ebola, but also diverse neglected diseases in Africa. “Ebola has brought in very sharp relief the extent of our ignorance in Africa and the Western world” about emerging infectious diseases, saidSteve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, director of development research at the African Development Bank, which collects contributions from African governments and donors to fund development across the continent. “It’s a very serious epidemic but everything has a silver lining,” he told The Scientist at the recent African Economic Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 

So far, however, there have been no signs that funding for African research in general will surge, and some worry that increased funding for Ebola in the midst of the epidemic will actually draw funds away from other research programs.

[…]

 

“Most of the African researchers are mainly focusing on getting resources, publishing their papers in collaboration, but are not in the position to lead the research that will solve the continent’s problems,” said Solomon Nwaka, acting executive director of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation, an international organization conceived by the World Health Organization and launched with seed money from the European Union. “The problem is resources. There is no Pan-African research funding agency.”

 

In August 2014, the U.K.’s Department of International Development and the Wellcome Foundation unveiled a £40 million ($64 million) five-year research project called the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative for African Scientists (DELTAS). The program is intended to fund training for junior scientists in Africa and to help support senior researchers across all areas of health research, said Val Snewin, Wellcome’s international activities manager. Infectious diseases have declined in significance to many researchers in mid-income African countries, as concern has grown over diseases of the West such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, said Snewin. DELTAS may fund some of these areas, she said.

 

The funding for DELTAS program was already in the pipeline when the Ebola outbreak came about, however, so whether the continent will see more general research funding initiatives like this in the wake of the epidemic remains to be seen. For now, the research community welcomes the funding dedicated to Ebola, which until this point has been limited, Talisuna said, but broader funding initiatives are also needed. Timely responses to these diseases require “top quality scientists and top-quality infrastructure,” he said. “[Donors and governments] should fund these institutions; not just for research but to train quality scientists in Africa.”

 

Read the whole article at TheScientist.

 

 

NIH Director Francis Collins and Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar submitted a response letter to this article:

 

We are writing to comment on your November 12 article entitled “Funding Research in Africa” by Paula Park. The article appropriately identified a very real problem—the dearth of basic research funding for scientists in many African countries. While the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wellcome Trust, and others fund a considerable amount of research in Africa, many of those awards are made to non-African institutions and scientists, who in turn sub-contract for collaborations with their African colleagues. However, Park apparently did not appreciate that the proportion of awards made directly to African scientists and institutions is steadily increasing, and now accounts for about 40 percent of Wellcome Trust and 63 percent of NIH funding for research in Africa. […]

 

Read the whole response at the-scientist.com.

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